Cert: 15 Runtime: 92 mins Director: Brian De Palma Cast: William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper and Gerrit Graham
Your voice, remember? You promised me your voice! Our contract, remember?
Recently I have been doing a lot of reading about The Phantom of the Opera, the original Universal movie enchanted me as a kid. The musical has been in my life for many years, but I never realized the amount of films there are. One film that grabbed my attention was Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. It’s not quite the Gaston Leroux’s tale, but the modernization by De Palma intrigued me. What is the story then? Rock opera version of The Phantom of the Opera which also serves as a dark satire of the music business. Notorious record tycoon Swan (Paul Williams) has sold his soul to the devil for eternal youth and success – 20 years ago. Swan’s current scheme is to steal the music from meek composer Winslow Leach (William Finley) to celebrate the opening of his rock palace, The Paradise. While trying to stop Swan, Leach becomes the victim of a freak accident that leaves him horribly disfigured. He takes refuge in the cavernous Paradise, hiding his mangled face beneath an eerie mask and planning gruesome vengeance upon Swan – and everyone else who has hurt him.
The movie is a visually and musically impressive rock opera with a healthy dose of horror and tongue-in-cheek humour. Brian De Palma cleverly conjures the basic outline of Leroux’s novel and add elements of his other influences
making the movie a subtle yet moving tribute to the books/movies/music he loves. The modernization and the change from opera to rock work surprisingly good and despite of being a bit outdated by now, the music (by Paul Williams) still makes one of the best soundtracks in a horror film.De Palma continues improving his technique in this film and like in the previous “Sisters”, his style shows maturity and a definitive trademark. Often labeled as a Hitchcock-imitator, I believe that De Palma simply likes to pay constant tribute to his influences, and this film serves a proof of that. Elements of Welles, Hitchcock, Murneau, Whale and Wienne are all over the picture, yet “Phantom of the Paradise” is like none of the works of those directors.Paul Williams not only composed the soundtrack, he also stars as Swan, the dark and evil genius that leads Death Records and ultimately uses Leach’s music for his own purposes. His performance is superb and while not physically imposing he is truly one of the best villains I’ve ever seen. Finley’s take on the Phantom is, like most of the modern interpretations of the character, a romantic tragic figure; but Finley recovers some of the original horror characteristics of the novel creating an attractive but still menacing monster.
Jessica Harper, who would achieve fame in Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”, gives a good performance as Phoenix, the young singer that captures both Swan and Leach’s attention. Like she would do in “Suspiria”, she adds depth to the role of the naive singer who wants nothing but to triumph. Something remarkable is the fact that she sang all her songs and did it with credibility and talent. Last but not least, Gerrit Graham portrays a Bowie-inspired Glam rock diva in the unforgettable role of rock superstar Beef.Sadly, not everything is perfect in Paradise, and neither is in this movie. The odd mixture of musical and horror works very good but at times the movie gets a bit too serious to pass as a musical or too silly to pass as a horror film. It’s not a surprise that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” gained more recognition as it keeps both genres perfectly in equilibrium in all its flamboyant runtime. Still, this is a minor flaw that keeps the movie away from perfection.Maybe I had low expectations or maybe I was just in the right mood, but “Phantom of the Paradise” was a pleasant surprise that I would not hesitate to recommend to fans of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or fans of black comedy in general.